At 6:21 p.m. exactly on March 22—that’s 18:21 in military time—thousands of applicants found out whether they were among an exclusive group.

When they logged on to the Amherst website, 779 received the good news: They’d been admitted to the class of 2023, bringing the total number admitted (including those who’d learned early) to 1,144, or 11.2 percent of all 10,567 applicants. The admission rate is a record low, down from 12.8 percent last year, and the application number represents a record high.

Three hours before any student celebrations, the College held a party to celebrate the admittance of those 1,144 students—and the contributions of the tour guides, admission counselors and staff members who worked hard along the way.

A photo of a person's hands holding an Amherst College brochure
Among those celebrating was Maya Hossain ’21, who met prospective students in her role as a diversity intern this year. Hossain remembers her own decision day clearly. Having received three rejections that week, Hossain—a first-generation college student—was low in spirits. On the big day, she dropped her phone in a toilet, so a friend lent her a phone to check the Amherst decision.

“I burst into tears. They said, ‘Oh, another rejection. It’s OK.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m going to college. This is so exciting!’” Hossain recalled. Of admission letters, she said with a grin, “You just need one. If it’s not Amherst, that’s OK, but if it is, be really happy.”

The students admitted this year hail from 48 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. California is the most represented, with 171 admitted students. Another 11 percent are international students.

Some 56 percent identify as U.S. students of color, including 21 percent who identify as African American, 20 percent as Asian-American, 18 percent as Latinx and 3 percent as Native American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Amherst is a founding member of QuestBridge—a national nonprofit that matches exceptional, low-income youth with leading colleges—and 129 students successfully applied through that program this year. Many others worked with similar community-based organizations such as SCS Noonan Scholars, Prep for Prep, EMERGE, LEDA, SquashBusters, RBSP GPS, Minds Matter and Schuler Scholars.

The admission rate this year is a record low, and the application rate a record high.

“I am so inspired by the students who apply to Amherst,” says Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Matt McGann. “These students are truly remarkable. I am certain this is a group of students who will make a difference in the world through their ideas.”

As the clocks counted down to 18:21, the Office of Admission buzzed with activity. On Dean of Admission Cate Zolkos’ desk, a purple pen sat next to a nearly-four-inch stack of paper. These were the acceptance letters, which Zolkos had blocked out time over multiple days to sign. Doesn’t she get a hand cramp? Wouldn’t she rather use a machine for this? To both questions, Zolkos said no: “The students are spending a lot of time working on their application, as well as years and years of education and effort. They deserve the respect of me taking the time to sign a letter.”

Besides, added Zolkos with a smile, signing letters is the fun part.

Downstairs, an entire conference room was overrun with stacks of colorful welcome packets. Staff spent a day getting them ready to mail and arranging them in piles of 100. They’d spend another entire day adding personalized letters.

Admission Office Manager Susan Geissler kept track of this massive effort, and was proud of all the work her colleagues had done. “It’s my favorite time of the year,” she said that day. “This is what we’ve worked for all year, to get a class.”

That class took shape in the weeks that followed, and by the May 1 national deadline was right on target, with 457 enrolled. Of those, 23 percent are low-income Pell Grant recipients, 46 percent are students of color, and there’s an even split between men and women. Rounding out the class, some 20 more would go on to enroll from the wait list.

Photo by: Jiayi Liu